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Norway Supreme Court Overturns Decoder Convictions

Norway’s Supreme Court, in a decision expected to cost pay television channels dearly, has ruled that there is no current law in that country that forbids the use and sale of pirate decoders.

In a majority decision, the five-judge court overturned a lower-court ruling that found a 32-year-old Rukjan man guilty of selling decoders to pay-TV channel TV1000 viewers, allowing them to watch the programs without subscribing.

The court ruled that TVl000’s programs are not legally covered by Article 145 for Norway’s Criminal Code, nor any other article. Article 145 protects “data, information or programs stored or transmitted by electronic means or other technical equipment,” and it provides a criminal sentence of up to six months in jail, in addition to fines. The decision overturns several other cases, one in which a defendant is currently serving time for the use and sale of the decoders.

Jan Eric Soergaard, manager of the pay TV channel, has called for quick passage of a new law, now making its way through Parliament, that would outlaw the sale and use of pirate decoders. The law also calls for cable companies to buy more advanced coding systems which would make pirating more difficult.

TV1000 loses $250 for each customer using a pirated decoder, which costs about $3 in bulk and is sold to consumers for 10 times that amount. Attorneys for the Rukjan man had argued that taping the programs was as easy, sometimes, as simply adjusting a VCR.

TV1000 says it will file a civil lawsuit against the defendants acquitted by the court’s decision. Attorneys for several pay TV and cable companies say until a new law is in place, they plan to go after the pirates by filing civil damage suits under Norway’s advertising and copyright laws.

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